High street food brands fail to engage with customers via social media, study finds

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Foodservice chains in the UK are not engaging with their consumers and suppliers via social media, potentially impacting brand loyalty and repeat purchases, a study of 85 leading brands by Visceral Business and Synthesio has found.

The Social Food Brand Study 2013, which covers 6,000 outlets in the high street, looked at activity across a wide spectrum of social and digital media, including the use of main networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter as well as forum, blogs, video and photo sharing activity and the degree to which social media is integrated into websites. The research found:

  • Online conversations are being dominated by a few companies: 10 brands account for 96% of all social media food conversations – Burger King (32.8%), KFC (19.7%), Starbucks (15.5%), Pizza Hut (7.7%), McDonalds (7.4%), Subway (6.1%), Greggs (2.8%), Nando’s (1.5%), Ben & Jerry’s (1.5%) and Dominos (1.2%)
  • Websites are not optimised for social media: 40% do not have websites optimised for social and mobile engagement; 19% are not connected to consumers via social media at all
  • Social media links on brand websites have increased by 72% this year, however adoption still lags behind FMCG, entertainment and housing industries
  • Brands need to diversify their platforms: Facebook is the most commonly used social media platform, however only 4%  of brands use smaller platforms such as Flickr and Foursquare
  • Only 60% of brands surveyed use LinkedIn, highlighting an opportunity for food brands to better engage with franchisees and B2B supplier networks

Anne McCrossan, founder of Visceral Business, said: “The premise was to look at social media from the users’ point of view, starting with the simple question ‘you’ve got £20 in your pocket, you’re in a high street and you’re hungry. Who are you going to choose to spend it with and how might social media help make that decision?”

Catriona Oldershaw, managing director UK of Synthesio, said: “77% of people discussing these social food brands on the web are talking about the experience of eating, but many brands aren’t engaged in that conversation.

“The emphasis on mainly transactional activities and broadcasted promotional communication means that many brands aren’t engaging in the best ways that can help their businesses.

“There also seems to be a general reticence in the sector about people coming out from behind the brand as part of the development of corporate reputation.”

McCrossan said: “The level of engagement by food brands contrasts sharply with other sectors. Charities, for example, have extended their support by developing engaging content via multiple platforms, such as Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter. Of the food brands that are using social media, Starbucks has made the biggest commitment to social media and is the most ready to engage in conversation with users.”